Tibet, averaging more than 4,000 meters above sea level, forms the main part of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and is well known as the "roof of the world." The Himalayas, ranging from east to west on the southern edge of the Tibet Plateau, run for 2,400 kilometers with an elevation of more than 6,000 meters. Mount Qomolangma is the world's highest peak with an elevation of 8848.13 meters. The Yarlungzangbo Gorge, at a depth of 5,382 meters, is the world's deepest gorge.
There are more than 90 known mineral types in Tibet, reserves of 26 of which have been proved while 11 of them rank among the top five in the quantity of reserves in China. The minerals include chromite, lithium, copper, gypsum, boron, magnesite, barite, arsenic, mica, peat, kaolin, salt, natural soda, mirabilite, sulphur, phosphorus, potassium, diatomaceous earth, iceland spar, corundum, rock quartz and agate.
Tibet is rich in water, geothermal, solar and wind energy. It produces approximately 200 million kilowatts of natural hydro-energy annually, about 30 percent of the nation's total. It has 354.8 billion cubic meters of surface water resources, 13.5 percent of the nation's total; and 330 billion cubic meters of glacial water resources. Tibet has about 56. 59 million kilowatts exploitable hydro-energy resources, 15 percent of the nation's total. Tibet also leads China in geothermal energy. The Yangbajain geothermal field in Damxung County, Lhasa, is China's largest high temperature steam geothermal field, and also one of the largest geothermal fields in the world.
Tibet is like a giant plant kingdom, with more than 5,000 species of high-grade plants. It is also one of China's largest forest areas, preserving intact primeval forests. Almost all the main plant species from the tropical to the frigid zones of the northern hemisphere are found here. Forestry reserves exceed 2.08 billion cubic meters and the forest coverage rate is 9.84 percent. Common species include Himalayan pine, alpine larch, Pinus yunnanensis, Pinus armandis, Himalayan spruce, Himalayan fir, hard-stemmed long bract fir, hemlock, Monterey Larix potaniniis, Tibetan larch, Tibetan cypress and Chinese juniper. There are about 926,000 hectares of pine forest in Tibet. Two species, Tibetan longleaf pine and Tibetan lacebark pine, are included in the listing of tree species under state protection. There are more than 1,000 wild plants used for medicine, 400 of which are medicinal herbs most often used. Particularly well known medicine plants include Chinese caterpillar fungus, Fritillaria Thunbergii, Rhizoma Picrorhizae, rhubarb, Rhizoma Gastrodiae, pseudo-ginseng, Codonopsis Pilosula, Radix Gentiane Macrophyllae, Radix Salviae Miltiorrhizae, glossy ganoderma, and Caulis Spatholobi. In addition, there are over 200 known species of fungi, including famous edible fungi songrong, hedgehog hydnum, zhangzi fungus, mush rooms, black fungi, tremellas and yellow fungi. Fungi for medical use include tuckahoes, songganlan, stone-like omphalias.
There are 142 species of mammals in Tibet, 473 species of birds, 49 species of reptiles, 44 species of amphibians, 64 species of fish and more than 2,300 species of insects. Wild animals include Cercopithecus, Assamese macaque, rhesus monkey, muntjak, head-haired deer, wild cattle, red-spotted antelopes, serows, leopards, clouded leopards, black bears, wild cats, weasels, little pandas, red deer, river deer, whitelipped deer, wild yaks, Tibetan antelopes, wild donkeys, argalis, Mongolian gazelles, foxes, wolves, Iynxes, brown bears, jackals, blue sheep, and snow leopards. The Tibetan antelope, wild yak, wild donkey and argali are all rare species particular to the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, and are under state protection. The white-lipped deer, found only in China, is of particular rarity. The black-necked crane and the Tibetan pheasant are under first-grade state protection.
Tibet has continually developed and exploited its unique tourism resources, both human and natural. The region currently has four tourist areas of Lhasa, the west, southwest and south.
The Lhasa tourist area includes Lhasa, Yangbajain, Damxung, Gyangze, Zetang, Xigaze and Yamzhoyum Co Lake. Lhasa itself is not only Tibet's political, economic, cultural and transportation center, but also the center of Tibetan Buddhism. Major tourist sites include the Jokhang Temple, Ramoche Temple, Potala Palace, Barkhor Bazaar, Norbulingka Palace and three great monasteries of Ganden, Drepung and Sera. The Jokhang Temple, the Potala and Norbulingka palaces and Ganden, Drepung and Sera monasteries are key cultural relics under state-level protection.
Western Tibet is Ngari Prefecture, the so-called "rooftop atop the world's rooftop". The area draws visitors because of its great religious significance. Many tourists and pilgrims from Nepal and India come into Tibet through the Burang port of entry to visit the area's sacred mountains and lakes.
The southwest Tibet tourist district is a place for mountaineers, many of whom are Nepalese who come to Tibet through the Zhamu entry/exit port to enjoy the mountain scenery or do some climbing.
In southern Tibet, centered around Nyingchi, one can pass through the four seasons of the year in a single day. There are snow-capped mountains, dense primeval forests, surging rivers and azalea-covered mountainsides. This beautiful scenery is easy to enjoy given the pleasantly humid and mild climate.
New tourist routes and specialty tours have been added in recent years. New routes are Lhasa-Nyingschi-Shannan-Lhasa (eastern circle line) and Lhasa-Xigaze-Ngari-Xigaze (western circle line). Specialty tours include exploration by automobile, trekking and scientific investigation tours. Other special events include the Shoton Theatrical Festival in Lhasa, the Qangtam Horseracing Festival in the North Tibet Plateau and the Yarlung Culture and Arts Festival in Shannan.
Environment and current issues
Tibet has thinner air, more sunlight, lower temperatures and less precipitation than other areas in China. The air contains only 150-170 grams oxygen per cubic meter, 62-65.4 percent that of plain areas.
The degree of industrial and other pollution in Tibet is comparatively light. No major instance of environmental pollution has ever occurred and there is no acid rain. Whenever a construction project with potential environmental effects is begun, there is an evaluation of environmental impact. This system also requires that pollution control facilities be designed, constructed and completed at the same time as the main project in question. Some former sources of pollution have been brought under control. The smoke prevention and dust removal rate for fuel combustion waste gases is 80 percent in the region. Urban construction is reasonably planned and afforestation is stressed. The "green rate" in Lhasa is 17.6 percent, supplying an average 12 square meters of green space per person.
In recent years, technical and research departments have completed a number of investigations into the sources of industrial pollution in Tibet and regional wild plant and animal resources. Environmental supervision and monitoring stations have been established in Lhasa, Xigaze and Qamdo. Investigations indicate that Tibet's environment is currently in good shape. The air and water are essentially unpolluted. Environmental radiation is within normal limits and no manmade radioactive pollution is present.
Enforcement of environmental protection laws
The government of Tibet Autonomous Region has consistently stressed the implementation of the nation's fundamental policy that natural resources be rationally utilized so as to protect the environment, conscientiously realizing coordinated planning and carrying out economic, urban and rural, and environmental construction.
In recent years, the Standing Committee of the Tibet Autonomous Regional People's Congress and the regional government have issued a series of regional laws and administrative regulations geared to environmental protection, including the "Tibet Autonomous Region Environmental Protection Ordinance," "Tibet Autonomous Region Forest Protection Ordinance," "Interim Provisions for Grassland Management in the Tibet Autonomous Region," "Tibet Autonomous Region People's Government Proclamation on the Protection of Aquatic Resources" and "Tibet Autonomous Region Administrative Procedures for Environmental Protection in Construction Projects." There are 20 regulations governing the protection of wild animals.
The government of the Tibet Autonomous Region established an environment protection agency in 1975 and an environment protection committee in 1990. Environmental protection laws and regulations concern forests, wild plants and animals, species preservation, ecological agriculture and animal husbandry, headwaters, natural and man-made sites deserving of protection for scenic or cultural and historic reasons, valuable geological landforms, and mountains. For many years hard work has gone to preventing forest fires and planting more trees.